Gender at Nature Ecology & Evolution

For International Women's Day, we put together some preliminary data on the gender of our authors.

A while ago we promised to report at the end of our first year on the gender balance of our authors and referees. As it's International Women's Day, I thought it would be good to put together a bit of preliminary data on our authors so far, with the caveat that it is very preliminary indeed and is not very detailed either.

We have published 50 research articles and 37 non-research articles, and this table reports the number of women relative to the total number for first and last authors of those papers:

First authors Last or only authors
Research papers 16/49 = 33% 7/50 = 14%
Non-research papers 3/18 = 17% 12/37 = 32%

First up, the two glaring facts that have been shown by plenty of more robust data sets over the years: the proportion of women in junior roles, as represented by first authorship on research papers, is much higher than the proportion in senior roles, as represented by last authorship; and neither of these proportions is high enough.

However, there is also something else about these numbers that strikes me. While our research papers arise from direct submissions to the journal, our non-research content is commissioned by the editors, albeit sometimes on the basis of a proposal from the authors. For these papers, the last author is much more likely to be a woman than for our research content, which hopefully reflects efforts by the editors to reach out to women authors. Indeed, this proportion is more or less the same as that for women first authors of research papers. However, the first authors of the non-research papers are much less likely to be women than are the first authors of research papers. This is concerning, and there is the worry that senior authors who get commissioned to write non-research articles are more likely to enlist their male than their female junior colleagues in the task. One obvious caveat here is that how authors assign first and last author roles on non-research content tends to be more flexible than the way it is usually done on research content, and it is more common for both first and last author to be of equivalent seniority. Also, this is an even smaller part of the data set as about half our non-research content has only a single author, and for this very preliminary data set we have not delved further into specific authorship roles on each paper. Nevertheless, these numbers do force us to think not only about gender imbalance in the scientific community, but about all the ways it might arise, including unequal opportunities for authoring manuscripts. This is something for both editors and authors alike to be constantly vigilant about.

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